tv Hardball With Chris Matthews MSNBC November 1, 2011 2:00am-3:00am EDT
the rain on cain's parade. let's play "hardball." good evening. i'm chris matthews. up in new york, leading off tonight, cain in pain. it's the political explosion of the day. the news first reported by politico that herman cain was accused of sexual harassment when he headed the national restaurant association, and that cash payments were reached with two women. in his defense, cain today said he was accused by one woman, but that the accusation was false. how will this story affect cain's dramatic lead in the polls? will it hurt him or will supporters chalk it up to a predictable attack by the political and media establishment? and tomorrow's publication date for my big new book, "jack kennedy: elusive hero." a new intimate portrait.
how did a rich man's son grow to the leader who got us through the cuban missile crisis? a look at the troublemaker in school, the young man who challenged his father on world war ii, who saved his crew members in the south pacific, and went on to inspire a country, even now. there's a lot president obama can learn from jack kennedy. we start with the latest on herman cain. jonathan martin is chief political correspondent for politico, and nia-malika henderson is a political reporter for "the washington post." let's show us now what we've heard latest. nbc has confirmed that one woman received a settlement from the national restaurant association after complaining about inappropriate sexual conduct by herman cain. nbc news is not disclosing the name of the woman, nor characterizing who she is. today herman cain acknowledged that he had been accused of sexual harassment, but said that charges were not true. let's listen. >> in all of my over 40 years of business experience, running businesses and corporations, i have never sexually harassed anyone.
while at the restaurant association, i was accused of sexual harassment, falsely accused, i might add. i was falsely accused of sexual harassment. and when the charges were brought, as the leader of the organization, i recused myself, and allowed my general counsel and my human resource officer to deal with the situation. as far as a settlement, i am unaware of any sort of settlement. i hope it wasn't for much, because i didn't do anything. >> well, let's go to jonathan martin. congratulations on breaking this story. of what we just heard from mr. cain, what can you report is not accurate? >> well, mr. cain himself has just contradicted his own statement. in an interview that's going to be on fox tonight, mr. cain says he believes that the one woman got about three months' salary as part of this departure deal.
you just saw him there say at the national press club, he's not aware of any settlement, but he hopes it wasn't for much. literally minutes after doing that, midday national press club, he tapes an interview for tonight with greta van sustern, saying that the woman got three months' salary. so he is not keeping his story straight on the response. and further -- go ahead. >> yeah, clearly he has had a hard time. why do you believe it's taken him all this time? apparently someone gave him the heads-up that this story was about to break, and even in those ten days, he didn't seem to be prepared for you. let's take a look at your interview earlier today -- was it earlier today, jonathan? >> yesterday. >> when you confronted him with the charges in the story. >> sunday. >> here it is in your politico story yesterday. you wrote that the campaign knew about the reporting for ten days, and yet mr. cain didn't seem to be prepared when you confronted him in washington. let's watch that scene. >> i'm not going to comment about two people that you won't
tell me who they are, okay? i'm not going -- i'm not going -- i'm not going to comment on that. >> have you ever been accused of sexual harassment? have you, sir? >> that was the last question. thanks. >> have you ever been accused of sexual harassment? >> jonathan, can you report about the core of this story, which is what may have been what he was accused of? what was his infraction? what did he do that most people watching right now would think was either deeply wrong, troubling, or whatever? >> sure. well, two women complained about what they deemed to be inappropriate behavior towards them. physical contact and also language that they found to be offensive and embarrassing. so much so that they went to their superiors and they went to colleagues to complain about the treatment. and subsequently, both of them got five-figure cash payouts and nondisclosure settlements, so
that they would not be able to talk about what actually happened. one of the women, chris, mr. cain invited to his hotel suite during an event that was actually related to the organization. so it was those kinds of gestures, it was physical contact. >> right. >> it was statements that were just making them feel uncomfortable, suggesting -- >> but how far did it go? can you report how far it went -- obviously inappropriate, from everything you've said, and certainly has no place in the workplace, but i'm asking you about this question. was it what we consider really aggressive harassment, like, i want to sleep with you, you work for me, you better do it, something of that extraordinary nature? was it something like that? >> well, i think it was inappropriate language, and also, physical contact too. you know -- >> but going to the room, certainly, and reporting that he, that suggests -- >> somebody in your hotel suite is pretty blatant. so there is that.
and also, physical contact that made these women feel uncomfortable. >> sure, i've got you. >> in the workplace. >> do you know, just to narrow it down for our viewers who are catching up to this story, and making a character judgment about this man, do you know whether that invitation to go to his room was, in fact, a sexual proposition? do you know that, or do you think that it would look like one to the woman involved? let's put it that way? did she take it that way? >> our sources tell us that the woman not only took it that way, but took it that way and then went and complained about the matter to a board member at the organization, because she was so, so hurt by the matter and was so scared by the matter, that she talked to superiors. >> this is serious business, nia-malika henderson of "the washington post," is this going to be one of those stories that takes down a candidate because it looks like predatory behavior in the workplace over someone who reports to you? >> well, it looks like there's more to come out of this day. it looked like he was ending his day on a song at the national press club, and now he's done this complete reversal that we'll hear more about on fox news tonight.
i think you are hearing some pushback from conservatives, saying basically that this is another example of the liberal press trying to bring down a black conservative. they're namedropping clarence thomas and drawing comparisons to that. but it does seem like he has stumbled into a real big mess here, primarily because there's that clear flip-flop, there's that clear reversal from earlier in the day, when he said he had no idea of this settlement, which i think to some people's ears, did strike them as odd. there seemed to be an acknowledgement that the complaints were made. and then to sort of say, he had no idea that a settlement was made when it was made, i think, struck people as odd. so now we have him here, clearly contradicting himself from earlier today. >> he's definitely developing this story as he goes along. this is called -- what's it called? rolling disclosure, we call it in our business, right, j., jonathan, j-mar. this is when you put out information like a leaky faucet and it looks worse for you all the time, right? >> look, chris, he had ten days
to respond to this story. his campaign was made aware of our reporting on thursday, october 20th. they did not respond until the following week on monday. we were not satisfied with the nature of their response. we wanted to make sure mr. cain himself, not his staff, mr. cain himself, had a chance to respond to these very serious questions. so i asked him directly, outside of cbs news yesterday morning, have you, sir, ever been accused of sexual harassment in your life? i gave him four chances to answer that very straightforward question. he didn't do it. and not until today did he finally admit that, yes, he was accused of sexual harassment. he denied it. and said that there was one charge. a half a dozen sources tell us that there were at least two female employees who complain about their treatment by mr. cain. >> nia, i want to ask you, is anybody out there pushing this story with a partisan agenda? i'm trying to figure the motive. it would seem to be -- i don't want to speculate, because i
always speculate in my mind, but i don't want to do it here, as to who would gain from the fall of herman cain? i don't think the liberals would be after him at this point. he doesn't look like the nominee. but who would be after him would be a fellow conservative who's competing with him to go on against mitt romney. that doesn't tell you who did it, it simply gives you a possible motive for someone. >> and you heard herman cain today call it a witch hunt, and obviously conservatives are blaming it on the liberal media. but i will say, i think there have been rumors about this swirling around his campaign, swirling around press organizations. and you know, kudos to you, j-mar, for breaking this thing -- >> you mean rumors of this particular nature, the harassment issue? >> yes, this particular incident. specifically, that j-mar so masterfully reported on in politico. my ex-colleague, hats off to you. >> thank you.
>> but no smoking gun. of course, in campaign, you obviously hear from rivalry campaigns, you know, touting, you know, details about the other campaign, but i will say that i hadn't experienced that, but there had been rumors, just around washington, about this, and around this campaign. >> so jonathan, just to make it official, doing my job, you're not going to tell me who the source is? >> i am not going to talk about my source. >> okay, now we know. at the national press club today he responded, mr. cain did, to a question about whether he thinks another campaign leaked the information to the press. let's listen to mr. cain. >> i told you this bull's-eye on my back has gotten bigger. i have no idea. we have no idea the source of this witch hunt. >> well, it's either a bull's-eye on your back or a witch hunt. i don't think it can be both. jonathan, i think he's got his historic references messed up. my question to you, as an analyst, do was you know about this case look to be disqualifying? in other words, gets to character? >> i think the nature of the charges against him are very
serious. he's got to answer more questions about what actually happened here. and also, he's got to try and get his story straight. he said midday today that he didn't know about any settlements at all. and then, again, a few hours later, even less than that, he's taping an interview for tonight and saying, yes, it was a settlement for about three months' salary. >> yeah, rolling disclosure, always looks bad. >> the more he talks, the more he's raising questions, chris. >> you know the old rule, if it looks better for the politician -- i mean, if it's better than it looks, they'll tell you. he has to tell us if it looks better -- if it's better than it looks. thank you, jonathan, and nia-malika henderson, thank you for congratulating him for the scoop. coming up, my new book, "jack kennedy: elusive heroes" out tomorrow. what can president obama learn from jack kennedy? that's coming up next, you're watching "hardball," only on msnbc. [ female announcer ] from the moment we arrive...
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welcome back to "hardball." my new book, "jack kennedy: elusive hero" debuts tomorrow. and over the past few years, i went back to try to answer the question, what was he really like? and what i found was a self-made jack kennedy, someone who was curious about the world and knew that the first step in leading was to ask americans to follow him. well, we're turning the tables
tonight. and with me tonight are two great political thinkers. the great howard fineman and massachusetts' own mike barnicle, who's covered and grown up with the kennedys over the years. gentleman, you're going to be asking me the questions about jack kennedy. howard, you start. >> okay, chris. let's play hardball. >> okay. >> i know that wasn't convincing. but the first thing that occurred to me was that there have been a lot of books written about jack kennedy. i, in fact, was inspired when i was a little kid to get into the business i'm in because of reading "making of the president" in 1960 about jack kennedy and that race. why now? why another book? why were you so interested in it? especially because in the past you had written one about kennedy and nixon. why now? >> i wanted to know if he was as good as we thought he was. back in the '60s before he was killed. i wanted to know if he was the genuine article. i had a lot of access to people through oral histories, person relationships, and documents, to
go back and find out what he was like in high school, what he was like in the navy, what he was like in that early going politically. how he learned to be jack kennedy. what i found out was pretty amazing. i found out where "ask not" came from. it came from something he heard from his headmaster. i got the exact notes from the sermons up there. i also went back and found out what he was like in school. he was a troublemaker, a kid who was an irish-american, who didn't like the waspy headmaster who took a shot at the irish calling them muckers and went out and formed a group called the muckers. he was an early leader. what really grabbed me was his courage in the war. mike barnicle knows it and knows these stories. but i went into depth. imagine he's carrying a guy on his back and he's got a badly injured back, and grown up with a bad back, carrying this guy on his back for four hours through the pacific ocean through japanese-held waters, all the time pulling the guy's life jacket in his teeth. he saved the lives of ten of his crewmen.
two were really in bad shape. he had to go out and talk them into not giving up. it is right out of a movie. he is a true hero. a chillingly, amazingly gutsy hero and that's how it all started. >> chris, i have a bunch of questions, but i want to talk to you tonight about something that absolutely jumped off the page to me. and it has to do with an appearance that then senator kennedy made in pittsburgh, pennsylvania, before the convention in 1960, long before the election in 1960. and i ask you this in light of today, when so many people, republican and democrat, seem to be wallowing in a frustration about the future of this country and about the strength of our political leaders, including president obama. and the question is this. senator kennedy is at the podium and he's being introduced by the then governor of pennsylvania, david lawrence, a powerful figure. and in his introduction, in which senator kennedy expects it to be glowing and laudatory and an endorsement of his candidacy for president, lawrence sort of slaps the bay state senator
around. john f. kennedy stands up, addresses the critiques that david lawrence raised, and then turns and verbally pummel david lawrence in front of lawrence's own audience. my question to you is, can you see barack obama having the strength to do that today? >> he better learn. the best part of my book in terms of research was getting 64 audiotapes that nobody's ever had before of kenny o'donnell describing such scenes at each stage of his political life. jack kennedy played "hardball." he sent bobby in the back room to do it, to beat up these governors who were giving him a hard time. it's amazing how he did it with mike desal and david lawrence and people like pat brown. governor taas. they came out of that room endorsing him.
he had a strong brother who was willing to do the tough work, the ruthless work. and jack kept his hands clean. but he got the job done. in that case, here was lawrence. jack kennedy had won the democratic primary in pennsylvania that spring, 70 plus percent. he had walked away in a write-in campaign. pennsylvania wanted him, the democrats -- and here's old david lawrence, the first catholic governor, nervous about a fellow catholic being a candidate, and he's holding back. acting like jack hadn't won the primary. jack walked up on the stage and told those delegates, if you don't give this nomination to me because i'm catholic, this is democratic party is finished and you guys are finished. lawrence goes off the stage practically finished and jack kennedy won the pennsylvania delegation. sometimes you've got to take the fight to the enemy to their face. i'm telling you, that's a lesson. you've got to go after the bad guys. >> chris, that's probably one lesson that i know you think that president obama needs to learn. he has to be willing to make enemies. he has to be willing to do it in public. but as i read through the book, i thought of the promise of barack obama as president, and the kennedy-esque. you know, barack obama was compared to both franklin roosevelt and jack kennedy,
tremendous burdens to be sure, of expectations, but what can barack obama do now at this rather late date? what can he read in your book that he needs to follow and try to follow before it's too late? >> well, the most important thing is, and i don't do this with disrespect for this man, who i respect a lot, he seems to think that the presidency is a solo act. i've never seen a president who doesn't have allies, who doesn't have confederates. where are the people coming on this show, coming on the sunday programs like "meet the press" and bashing the hell out of the other side? where are cabinet members? what's the matter with these people? madeleine albright was a better trooper for bill clinton when he was in trouble with monica than any of these people are. how come these senators come on like bernie sanders like he has his own political party? he's a socialist, but can he act like a democrat? can he act like obama's ally? how come these guys come on -- we have them all over the place. they all come on television and act like they're running in their own campaigns. they should be his confederates, they should be his allies, and they should take some punches for him and deliver some punches for this guy. he ought to just say, if you're are you a democrat? then you're in my party. part of it's his fault.
he ought to have them over to dinner, sit around, have a few drinks, play cards, nurture them. but he better make some allies, or this guy is going down this road next year all alone. as tip o'neill said to a congressman, i don't need you when i'm right, i need you when i'm not popular. i need you now. i don't understand why he doesn't lay down the law. michael, where are the confederates? where's the obama party? jack kennedy had something called the kennedy party. >> let's talk about that. i mean, you know, that element that howard threw on the table and you just knocked out of the park. it is the element of, he ought to have these guys down the white house, he ought to play cards with them, have a drink with them. >> if you don't like them, they're not going to like you. >> well, that's the question. is he as -- is barack obama as good at politics at we initially thought? because he certainly, after this point in time, is certainly not john f. kennedy, who schmoozed these guys. these guys, in your book, they liked jack kennedy. you get the sense that a lot of democratic reps and senators,
they admire the president, as we all admire the president, as we all ought to, but they don't really like him. >> you know what happened to jack kennedy, he got beaten for the vice presidential nomination in '56 and talked to the people and said, now i'm going to be a total politician. not just some popular guy. i'm going to be a guy that makes other politicians do what i want them to do. because he had that nomination taken away from him because he was catholic in '56. at the last minute, raeburn and those guys screwed him. he said, next time around i'm going to have the power over those guys. so he went out in the country and got 30,000 people supporting him for the convention. he knew half the delegates personally when he got there. personally. you've got to go out and put the rope around these other politicians. you've got to make them do what they don't want to do. you can woo some of them. you've got to use the stick with the rest of them. and i'm telling you, it's all about domination over other politicians. when i look at eric cantor, for this candidate to be pushed around by him, gets pushed around by bibi netanyahu, stop it. stop it.
we're the ones giving the $3 billion a year to israel. you shouldn't be acting like you're giving it to us. i'm sorry. he's got to get tough with our allies in the world, good allies like israel, and start acting like we're the big guys. you know, be a little tougher about this. that's my thought. just a thought. it's easier to be a pundit. >> chris, it's partly because of what you bring to the story in terms of your own knowledge of politics, i'm sure, but one of the things i took from your book, as you've been saying, is just how thoroughly steeped in the world of politics jack kennedy actually was. on the outside, we saw the cool customer and so on, but you document how from an early age he was deeply involved in studying and trying to understand history and politics. i'm not sure barack obama's ever going to be that. but i want to flip around -- >> by the way, he's a lot more like you and me than you think. and mike, we're kids who started reading about churchill and heroes like that when we were very young. he had read churchill's history of world war i when he was 14. he read "the new york times" every day in high school. >> let me ask you something else entirely different. having studied jack kennedy, and
you've talked about all the things that he brought as a leader and his bravery, physical and political, what were his shortcomings as a political leader? and there must have been some. and i'm wondering, also, what a second term might have been like had he been able to have one. >> he was fighting to the end, before he was killed in november of '63. trying to twist the arms of the guys on the rules committee, to get civil rights through. i've got stuff in the book about him working the judiciary committee, and he did that well with the help of dick daley in chicago. he was really squeezing them. but he had the biggest, hardest time with the dixie-crats. he couldn't move them on issues like tax cuts. he had a time dealing with congress. that's where i sympathize with president obama. you can be the right guy, the good guy, the tough guy, but these other guys can stand in the way. if you're the best in the business -- it took his assassination, let's be honest, we all know this -- to get the civil rights bill through, because of the horror and grieving of this country afterwards. and johnson was able to use that to get civil rights through in '64.
jack had the guts to bring it up and say i'm for it, but even he couldn't get it through until horror struck this country in his assassination. so, you know, he wasn't superman, but did he try and have the right values? yes. yes, he did. >> you know, one other element that really struck me in the book, chris, and i'm sure it probably struck howard as well, we all know that times are drastically different today than they were in 1960. but president kennedy and senator kennedy's friendship with journalists, with ben bradley, with charlie bartlett, with teddy white, there was a common, mutual respect and affection back and forth. >> thank you. >> he was not afraid of them. and let them into his life. and we all understand the differences between coverage then and now. but it struck me that that does not exist today. >> and i don't quite understand it. you know, we don't have to be coddled, but there is a common interest in our country that commentators and journalists have in common with the president, we all cover the same
areas on both sides of the political and journalistic fence, and we all care about the country and there should be a little more respect. but that's up to him. i think he makes a mistake if he doesn't recognize the role we play. and if he thinks he's superior to that role, he's right, but also shares that role. thank you, gentleman. i want to say to people who watch me every night all these years, this is a book i put my heart into. i hope you grab me at an airport or somewhere and tell me what you think of it. if you lived through this period, it will convince you you're right about kennedy the first time. if you're a daughter or son of somebody who lived through it, you'll understand your parents. and if you're really young, it'll teach you what leadership is. i think we need that. my book, "jack kennedy: elusive hero." i'm asking, go out and buy it. we'll be right back. i'm asking. up next, rick perry is down in the polls so now he's trying important phone call i made.
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welcome back to "hardball." rick perry's poll numbers have dropped precipitously over the past month, largely as a result of his shaky debate performances. but when it comes to damaging moments, nothing may match perry's appearance in manchester, new hampshire, this past friday night. just take a look at what has been described as a bizarre and unusual speech. >> this is such a cool state.
i mean, come on, live free or die? it's like, live free or die, victory or death. bring it! the texas rangers after 50 years are going to win a world series! oops. i grew up on a farm. i grew up -- i grew up on a farm. if they print any more money over there in washington, the gold's going to be good. are that -- 20% flat tax. put it on there, send it in. that little plan i just shared with you doesn't force the granite state to expand your tax footprint, if you know what i mean, like 9% expansion. i love herman. is he the best? today has been awesome, girl! this has really been a great day.
>> wow. well, that's the first time i saw that baby. after that over-the-top performance, is this guy in big trouble? john heilemann, editor for "new york" magazine and david corn can't wait to give us his opinion. he's msnbc's analyst and of course bureau chief for mother jones. i've got to start with john. john, i don't know how i would describe that. >> i think it's fair to say that the people in the audience did not realize they were going to get to see will farrell performing an imitation of rick perry performing an imitation of george w. bush. i would have been kind of amazed to see that performance. >> well, it was like -- i don't want to get into it. it was so whimsical. >> goofy. >> yeah. >> goofy. and i think if you were going to try to put the most positive spin on it, you would say he has been flat and wooden and dead up until now, and he's trying to revivify himself in a folksy, loose, charming way. that's the most positive spin you can put on it. i think if you're sitting in
boston right now and you're in the romney campaign, you look at that and you say, he's a clown. >> yes! well, i don't know. i mean, i don't know where to begin here, david corn. is this the behavior at the office christmas party two months ahead? i don't know -- the guy with the lampshade on his head who thinks he's funny. i don't know. what is it? >> he looked pretty good to me, but i was high when i was watching. >> be careful. people take these things literally, my friend. >> i don't think he was kidding at all. >> but he did make me think spicoli, the character from "fast times at ridgemont high," but i think there's an explanation you almost touched on there, john, and that is, he's been so sleepy in a lot of these debates, this looked to me like they gave him like 20 cups of coffee before he went on, and said, go have fun, governor. >> coffee? >> would you want a goofy fellow with his finger on the nuclear button? i think people in the crowd were kind of, didn't know -- were kind of wondering what to make of this performance. >> you know, it's like what you
see at a wedding, where the guy gets up there and stands up there and he's not quite ready for primetime. i don't want to be too tough, but i do think it was bizarre. the perry camp gave the following quote as an explanation for friday's speech, gave it to "the huffington post." "the governor is passionate about the issues he talks about." i'm not sure -- >> can't even read it with a straight face! >> the british say tired and irritated when someone puts on a performance like that. >> i think there's some overcompensation going on. they increasingly -- look, he's the only candidate in the race who has the financial resources to compete with mitt romney. that's number one. number two, he traditionally, before he became a presidential candidate, the thing that everyone said about him was that he had tremendous retail skills. he connected with human beings in a way that mitt romney didn't. i feel like they feel that he has become this other rick perry, and they're trying to get
him back there somehow. >> i understand. >> so there's an overcompensation that went on here, i think. >> i've got to tell you. i'm in this business trying to figure out the tone of this program some nights, and sometimes i get a little giddy and have too much fun and other times i get too serious. it is a matter of tone. let's take a look at his ads. his ads have been dynamite. that's his strength. let's take a look at the ad that's set to run in iowa. the perry ad. >> if you're looking for a slick politician or a guy with great teleprompter skills, we already have that. and he's destroying our economy. i'm a doer, not a talker. in texas, we created 40% of the new jobs in the entire country since june of 2009. and we cut a record $15 billion from our state budget. now, they say we can't do that in washington. well, they're wrong and they need to go. >> that -- i'm sorry, as a regular person, forget the ideas involved, i like that guy. corn? >> well, he's made good campaign ads before. and in fact, in texas, he's known for skipping out debates, but coming up with killer ads, usually negative ads, but that are very effective. and so as john mentioned, he'll have lots of money.
he can still, you know -- >> why can't he do that on stage? is he like a movie star that can't do live theater? >> he doesn't have the talent set to be that person. i don't know how many takes did that commercial take? >> i don't want know. >> 40? 45? 47? i mean, he can't -- he's had plenty of chances now on the national stage to be impressive as a person, as a real person, and he hasn't been able to do that yet. >> the funny thing is that mr. romney, who can be, i've always said, looks like one of the characters in the hall of the presidents, you know, down in disney world. >> animatron. >> yet in a debate he comes across as a natural debater. >> this guy always has those weird collars, looks like he's going to disappear in his collar. he's wearing the wrong clothes. there he is wearing clothes he looks totally comfortable in. not here. we'll see. i don't think he's doing well. he's 4% in iowa, and he can't get much lower with the margin of error.
john, i don't understand how he can run such a terrible campaign and such great tv ads. maybe this will be the end of tv ads. thank you, john heilemann, you were very discreet in your discussion of his performance. i will hear later what you really thing. david corn, thank you. up next, president obama ran on hope and change in 2008. something that's not likely to work in 2012, is it? getting ready to go negative, is he? we'll see. he is definitely getting personal and it looks like negative on people like romney. they've already started to sharpen their knife. this is "hardball," only on msnbc. ♪ [ male announcer ] a simple gesture can spark romance anytime. and when it does, men with erectile dysfunction can be more confident in their ability to be ready with cialis for daily use. cialis for daily use is a clinically proven low-dose tablet you take every day so you can be ready anytime the moment's right, even if it's not every day. [ man ] tell your doctor about all your medical conditions and medications and ask if your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity.
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i'd make two points about him. one is he has no core. issue after issue after issue, he's moved all over the place. and i can tell you one thing working a few steps down from the president. what you need in that office is conviction. you need to have a true compass. and you've got to be willing to make tough calls. and you get the sense with mitt romney that, you know, if he thought it was good to say the sky was green and the grass was blue to win an election, he'd say. >> that's powerful stuff there. welcome to "hardball." that was senior obama adviser david plouffe on "meet the press" yesterday, clearly signaling that the 2012 presidential race is on and mitt
romney is the candidate that the obama campaign is most worried about. back in august, a politico piece previewed the obama strategy. its headline, "obama plan -- destroy romney." the story said, "barack obama's aides and advisers are planning to center the president's re-election campaign on a ferocious personal assault on mitt romney's character and business background. his aides are increasingly resigned to running -- the president's aides -- to running for re-election in a glum nation. so the candidate who ran on hope in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent." well, are we seeing the rollout of the obama campaign strategy already? sam stein is the white house correspondent for "huffington post" and susan milligan is with "u.s. news & world report." susan, that looked like the talking points to me of the obama campaign voiced by its top kick. >> absolutely.
well, look, that's their strongest argument at this point, and that's what romney's problem has been in the primary, is that he's not completely trusted by the conservative wing of his party. and i think that there's a sense that people don't completely know who he is. mario cuomo had this issue come up when he was governor of new york and he was running again and some people said, you know, you've got to change your mind on the death penalty and be for the death penalty, most new yorkers are. and he wouldn't do it. and he sat with us in the statehouse and he said, if you change your mind on something that fundamental, people won't trust you again. you're not going to win over the people whose side you went over to and you're going to lose the people who were with you before. and people just want to know who you are, particularly on things like abortion and gay rights that mitt romney has flipped on. and that's what's giving him problems with his own base. but i think it's going to give him problems next year as well. the economy is not going to be obama's strong suit next year. that's what he's going to have to do. >> sam, it's interesting that parties who think the other side might have gone too far to the right or too far to the left have still decided to hit the opponent on being a flip-flopper. i'm thinking back to the mcgovern campaign in '72, the nixon campaign through john
connelly running something called democrats for nixon did the flip-flop ad with the signs flipping around and it goes around 360 degrees at one point and spinning around. the same thing was done against john kerry in 2004 with the strauss waltz music playing while he wind surfed. why not go after the candidate on his positions? why go after him on his flipping? >> in the case of romney, it's because it's worked in the past. this was the attack line that ted kennedy tried against him in '94 successfully. and if you remember, in 2008, this is what mike huckabee and john mccain viciously went after him. i remember, we looked it up, there was this attack on him, romney defended him -- he said his opponents were mischaracterizing his position on iraq in 2008, and huckabee chimed in, which position? it worked very effect live in back then. it gets to the character of the man running for office. voters respond inherently to it. and i think that's what you're seeing with david bluff going
out and using it again yesterday. >> you said something very well, susan, and teddy roosevelt said the reason he didn't run for reelection in 2008, because he said he wouldn't. and if i did, people would always look at him as a politician. it doesn't seem to bother romney to be thought of as a politician. >> it's one thing to change your mind on something like raising taxes or something where the circumstances change and you say, you know, i said no new taxes but right now it looks like we need new revenues. on fundamental issues people feel very strongly about, it makes it look like you have no core, you have no core beliefs. there's a lot of uncertainty in this country right now. demographically we're changing dramatically. it's an unsettling thing for a lot of people. the economy's bad. you want some consistency. >> do you think romney has a core? is there anything he wouldn't give on to get elected president? how's that one? >> that's a pretty strong thing to say.
>> i'm asking you. is there something you can imagine he says, this is where i stand, like martin luther, i am not going to give? is there anything he's got like that? that you can think of? >> well, you -- i can't think of anything, no. i mean, you could argue i suppose he might say that he's flexible. he doesn't strike me as somebody -- >> i'm playing tough here. i'm playing hardball with real journalists. let me ask you, sam. can you think of something he won't give on? >> you said you were being too tough with susan. i don't need to answer that question, do i? >> here's jon huntsman answering the question. i'm being sarcastic. let's listen. >> this is when the candidates need to stand up and show a little bit of leadership. you can't be a perfectly lubricated weather vain on the important issues of the day. >> perfectly lubricated. where did he get that? that's a great line. >> if he were doing better in the polls, that might have gotten a little more press. that was really quite brilliant. i do think that's his most damaging characteristic.
i don't think it's a character assault in the same way as attacking somebody as being elitist, you know, which is such a vague kind of term. it really does fundamentally have to do with what your belief system is. i think people can deal with it if they disagree with you on something like that, but they have a harder time when you seem to be finessing your views to fit the circumstance. >> well said again. >> can i jump in? >> sure, you're in. >> it's not just about his core. there's another front to the argument the obama team wants to make. that's looking back at his time at bane capital, they think they can use that part of his biography to make him this sort of personification of income inequality in america. >> how so? >> because i was in a conversation with a senior administration official on this. they looked at data, nielsen company, people are upset about income inequality in the country, much more so than ever been. mitt romney got rich. his clients may have folded or sent jobs overseas. he did well.
he and his employees are biting into $20 bills. that seems to be working well, too. >> david plouffe was working from the same talking points in criticizing romney. he's getting it from both sides, the republican rivals as well as the democrats. let's listen. >> he's been for pro abortion. >> he was an extremely pro choice governor. now he believes that life begins at conception. >> he's been for, you know, supporting gay rights. >> he was to the left of ted kennedy on gay rights issues. now he wants to amend the constitution to further gay marriage. >> sam, same talking points. >> if it works, i mean, like i said, this is the same talking point that's been used against romney for almost two decades now and something that worked before, so why change it. >> it looks like he's back where he was, susan, back in the '94 race with kennedy. multiple choice. what he accused him of. >> chris, he said something very
recently, he was asked during a debate about hiring illegal immigrants to work. you know, work on his lawn. and he said that he actually went to the company and made sure that they were legal. and he said something in the debate to the effect of i said, look, we're in an election here, we can't have this. >> we're being watched. got to go, guys. thank you so much. sam stein, susan, excellent points tonight. >> great book, chris. love the jfk book. >> thank you. you're allowed to write about it, too, if you like. let me finish with why one basic to becoming a leader is to ask people to follow you. kennedy asked. obama needs to start asking now, or else. that's next.
let me finish tonight with this. as a student in the 1930s, young jack kennedy heard head master st. john recite a favorite maxim, a youth who loves his alma mater will always ask, not what she can do for me, but what i can do for her. when it was time for the challenge of the cold war, those words stuck. ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. it was a call to duty. it was a very personal invitation. he wasn't going to do this alone, he said. the 234u frontier was not going to be a solo act. jack kennedy was going to be our leader. he would create the peace corps and alliance for progress, boosting the space program, calling up troops to meet the berlin crisis, calling for civil
rights for all americans. his presidency was not going to be a spectator sport, something to sit back, watch and judge. that's what the obama presidency needs, the sense of the part of the american public of being called to join in the effort. it is felt most by all who voted for him with enthusiasm. cried on election night. got swept up in his inaugural fever. there are certain basics to becoming a leader. the first is asking people to follow. kennedy asked, obama still needs to. the american people who elected barack obama have been on the verge of feeling discarded. too many feel they were used for that purpose, to give him the job then fade back into the obscurity from which they cheered him, saw him as their deliverance. it's something he has to fix and can. he needs to find inspirational ways to include us in the work of rebuilding america. he needs to start asking. my book "jack kennedy elusive hero" is out in stores tomorrow. i'm asking you to go get it. please read it. it will lift your spirit and also challenge you.